Amritsar goes ahead with plans to welcome Obama

Amid reports that the US president may skip Amritsar over worries about the possible fallout back home of being seen as a Muslim with a scarf around his head during his visit to the Sikh shrine, community leaders and administration officials here said they were optimistic the trip would go through.  

Obama, officials said, is scheduled to visit the Golden Temple and Khalsa College in Amritsar Nov 7 during his first visit to India as the US president. According to the schedule officials here are going by, Obama will arrive in Amritsar from Mumbai Nov 7 and visit the Golden Temple and offer prayers at Harmandar Sahib, the sanctum sanctorum. He will be here for three hours, including about 40 minutes at the shrine.

"We have so far not received any intimation about the cancellation of Obama's visit to Amritsar. We have beefed up security in the entire area and a massive cleanliness drive is also on," K.S. Pannu, deputy commissioner of Amritsar, told IANS.  

He is also looking at the possibility of closing shops in and around the Golden Temple.  "Nobody has requested us to close the shops for two days. We know that it is a weekend when there is huge rush, so we probably can order the closure of the shops for few hours."

Authorities at the Golden Temple are also going ahead with plans to welcome the first African American president of the US. "As far as our knowledge goes, Obama is coming to Golden Temple on Nov 7 and there is no change in his programme. I do not think there could be any problem or controversy regarding this. He can cover his head with a cap, cloth or scarf... that is without any metal substance," Giani Gurbachan Singh, jathedar (head priest) of Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikh religion, told IANS.

"We only need to maintain the sanctity of Sikh religion and there are certain rules that everyone has to follow," he pointed out. Avtar Singh Makkar, president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which manages the shrine, said it was a matter of great pride that Obama would visit.

"This is the matter of great pride for the whole Sikh community that the US president is visiting our holiest shrine. Why should we raise any objection with the ways of covering his head. He is free to do it as per his own discretion in whichever way he feels comfortable," he said.

"Countless non-Sikhs, from across the world, pay obeisance at Golden Temple everyday but we have never raised any objections over the style of covering their heads."

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